Saturday, January 31, 2015

Gilliam & Morrow Counties

On Thursday I drove east for my second installment of Gilliam County birding.  My first stop was Willow Creek Wildlife Area, which requires a detour through Morrow County before emerging at a viewpoint of Willow Lake. 

Stellar windshield cellphone photo

The road twists down to a small parking area surrounded by sagebrush, and the dogs and I braved the narrow trail heading north along the eastern shore of the lake. 

Scanning the water turned up hundreds of coots, Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Mallards, and some Scaup Sp.   I meant to get the scope out of the trunk when we got back to the car and see what else was out there, but I forgot.  Driving back towards the highway I made a wrong turn somewhere and came around a corner and flushed hundreds of Canada and Snow Geese.  Since the Snow Geese were flagged by eBird, I felt this was a decent find. 

Back to the highway, and back to Arlington, the unofficial gateway of Gilliam County.  A lone Greater White-fronted Goose has been slumming it with the domestic ducks in the town park and I stopped to have a look.

You're better than this, you know you are.

I mean, it looks pure and wild, right?  There's no black mottling below but I know that's variable.  Tell me if this dude is not legit.

From Arlington I headed south on Highway 19 with big plans to track down some Gray Partridges near Condon, and check out the southeast corner of the county.  I stopped to take a thousand terrible and two tolerable photos of a Merlin. 

I kept driving south but never made it to Condon.  A dense fog took over and I started to weigh my options, eventually stopping at Wolf Creek Road to turn around.

Fog lark.

 Horned Lark

I drove back north out of the fog and birded Middle Rock Creek Lane where I had the pleasure of being the first to use the eBird hotspot "Oregon2020-Middle Rock Creek Lane."  After that, I continued north to The Tree Lane (Old Tree Rd) where I had some better bird luck.

 That's a Rough-legged Hawk hovering between two windmills.  As he slowly got closer to one I imagined what crazy photos I would have if he got too close...  

Thankfully he had no problem flying around them and came cruising right by me. 

This road also held my first ever dark morph Rough-legged Hawk.  Pretty cool.

I hit up Four Mile Road on my way back but found very little going on.  So no partridges on this trip, but I did add 14 more species to my Gilliam County list (and 15 to my Morrow list) so all is good.  I look forward to my first spring visit to the county!  Good times!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My big secret.

No, this is not clickbait, but yes, I'm about to divulge a most embarrassing secret to you all:  I am terrible at scaup.  For the first two or three years of birding I never even said the word "scaup" out loud because I didn't know how to say it.  Now I rarely try to distinguish lessers and greaters unless I "need" to for a county bird, year bird, or some other ridiculous list.  I remember being at Lake Merritt in Oakland a couple years ago and seeing them up close and thinking how easy they were, so maybe it's just that I normally see them at a great distance? 

I need to work on this.  I can feel eBird roll its eyes at me every time I enter "Greater/Lesser Scaup X".  Last week I walked over to Broughton Beach for my motorless list and found a lot of scaup close in on the river, a perfect opportunity for learning.  Let's begin.

This bird above clearly has that head peak folks like to talk about for Lesser Scaup.  Is it that simple?  Am I missing something?  I don't know.  Below there are four scaup.  Scaups?  Scaup.  The far right lady looks to be a Greater, while the three trailing appear to be lesser with their head peaks and smaller size. 

But.  The two left birds don't have THAT much of a peak.  Is it enough?  Am I overthinking?  Below there is a small pack of scaup.  The center two dudes look like a nice comparison of Greater and Lesser. 

I would say there are at least seven Greaters in the above photo, and at least two Lessers.  Here is another small pack:

Now I'm feeling uncertain.  Left column middle looks Lesser, along with the female to her right.  The rest Greaters?  I'm not confident.  Ok one last photo, where the black nail on the bill should help, rather than head peak:

The top left bird looks big, but with that head peak and small nail I would say Lesser.  Bottom left looks small, but rounded head and big nail, so Greater.  Top right bird, big nail could be Greater.  And bottom right bird, small nail, but otherwise unsure and would guess Lesser. 

Oh.  Wait.  I have one more bird, from Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden last week.  I called it a Lesser despite not having much of a head peak.  Lots of heavy barring on the back and a small-ish nail though.

For a bird I see nearly every day it's kind of ridiculous that I only have TWO blog posts with the label "Lesser Scaup."  If you want more, my coworker John recently photographed a bunch of Greaters at Broughton Beach, and also a beaver!  Wild.

Here's some other random junk from recent times. 

My first bike path coyote, though I've been poking their path poop for years.  Terrible shot.

Wood Duck, Crystal Springs

Foggy Tufted Duck, Marine Park, Vancouver

Top Gun 2, Whitaker Ponds

 Red-shouldered Hawk, continuing at Whitaker Ponds (that's a leaf behind him, not a dead thing in his mouth)

 All-time high of four Eurasian Collared-Doves in the yard

That's about it.  Plan to do some more interesting birding tomorrow.  Stay tuned.  Good times!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Recent stuff.

Oh man have I been slacking on my motorless list so far this year.  I haven't even dusted off my bike yet- all my birds are from dog walks and the yard.  LAME.  Hopefully I can fix that on my days off coming up, but till then, here is what I have to show for myself.

January sunrises are top notch

My drive home from work this month has coincided with the time of day that I have always called (in my head, not to anyone else) when the crows fly.   I started noticing the evening flight of crows a few years ago and have since really enjoyed watching this sort of low budget spectacle.  Having this occur while stuck in traffic really makes things better.

I have heard rumors of a big crow roost downtown, and perhaps that is where these birds are heading.  They fly over my backyard sometimes, passing in pairs, sixes, dozens, quietly and with purpose.  It's calming.

In yard news, I have had all of my ash tree cleaned up and removed, and the fence finally fixed.  There has not been a huge impact on bird numbers thankfully.  My Anna's Hummingbird females still visit daily, and chase away any males that dare show up.

Last weekend a new yard bird showed up in the pouring rain.  He left quickly and I feared I had imagined it, but he came back in the sunshine on Tuesday.  A slate-colored junco!

The high school near my house has helped add some quality gulls to my motorless list.  My attempts to scope them from my living room (for my yard list of course) have mostly failed, but I will keep trying.

Mew Gull

Thayer's Gull

Herring Gull

Yesterday morning I peaked out my blinds to see the sky turning some brilliant colors.  I checked the sunrise time and realized I had exactly enough time to make it up to the river for it, so the dogs and I took off walking.  Unfortunately as we walked, the cold ground was feeling the heat and a fog rose up washing out the vibrant pinks and oranges.  

The sun rose as we passed under the Glen Jackson bridge and I tried to talk myself out of my disappointment about the muted sky.  It's fine, I told myself, everything happens for a reason.   We approached our usual destination, a little spot where you can walk right up to the water.  We must have walked there a hundred times before.  

I saw something white through the grass, probably a Coors Light tall boy I thought.  In the summer this place collects a lot of trash so it would not be unusual.  Then the white thing moved.  Oh shit.  That's not a beer can, that's a long-tailed short-tailed weasel.  

The weasel had a dead rodent.  He ran around trying to decide how to react, finally grabbing the rodent and dashing a short distance before popping back up to reevaluate the situation.  I forgot I had switched to manual focus and most shots are blurry, but they're cool (to me) anyway.

From there the weasel took off running east along the rocks, dropping the rodent along the way.  

Again, he reevaluated the situation, and decided to run back for the rodent straight towards me.  

With the rodent dangling, the weasel took off again, heading east into what was becoming pure fog.

The dogs thoroughly inspected every square inch of the spot where we first saw the weasel while I thought about how amazingly fortunate I had just been and how grateful I was for that initial glance through my blinds at the sunrise.  Yes.  Everything happens for a reason.  Good times. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Washington State.

I spent the beginning of my work week thinking that on my weekend I would drive out to see the Black-headed Gull in Umatilla.  But then people stopped seeing the gull.  Then I decided I would head to Netarts for the Baltimore Oriole.  But then people stopped seeing the oriole.  By the time my weekend came around yesterday I was itching to take a day trip somewhere and a reliable Long-eared Owl in Stanwood, WA became my new target. 

I arrived at Eide Road in Stanwood around 9:15, and found two or three Short-eared Owls, like the one above, flying all over.  The few people around had not seen the Long-eared but the Short-eareds were entertaining and rather tame. 

My stomach started growling embarrassingly loudly while watching this owl and I decided to head out to do some exploring elsewhere and eat some lunch.  One fellow at the spot suggested I go up to Fir Island to see the Snow Goose spectacle.  Seemed like as good a plan as any. 

I drove around Fir Island for awhile, finding only Trumpeter Swans (#birderproblems?).  The Fir Farms Reserve/Hayton Snow Goose Reserve held zero white birds, but it was still a fine little muddy trail to walk the dogs along.

View of Skagit Bay from the trail

Bald Eagles are plentiful here.  Like super plentiful.  I liked it.

I spent some time cruising around the back roads, checking for the famous geese, but found only small numbers along Maupin Road.

I returned to Fir Island Road, cursing the lack of pullouts when a pair of Bald Eagles locked talons and tumbled through the air.  I did manage to find a pullout near some Trumpeter Swans...

I don't remember ever being so close to any on the ground.  Pretty cool.  They shared their small field with a large flock of blackbirds which occasionally took flight to make this churchy building look cooler.

After Fir Island I drove back down to Eide Road to make a last attempt.

About a dozen photographers were standing around, watching a Short-eared Owl.  It was one of the rare times I have encountered a mass of photographers, rather than birders.  They seemed generally unfriendly, perhaps due to my lack of tripod, but one fellow told me where I could find the Long-eared.  I had walked right by it. 

First life bird of 2015!  He sat there while I ran through a ton of different settings, trying to figure out how to make him look best.  Though he seemed pretty unconcerned with me and the other two dudes that joined me, he was not completely inactive.  He chewed on his leg, he looked behind him, and eventually he hopped over a bit into thicker brush.  That's when I left.  Here are a few more shots I managed in my meager attempts to give Rhett a run for his money.  Spoiler:  Rhett has much better LEOW photos. 

So stoked to finally see this owl.  I can't remember ever hearing of a reliable one, and I'm glad I made the trip.  My plan was to stop to look for the Tacoma Slaty-backed Gull on the way home, but after checking out the area briefly, I decided I did not have the energy for the hunt.  Next time.  Though I never want to drive through the Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia area ever again after yesterday's traffic.

Good times!!!